The night was falling fine as dust, as a black sifted snow-shower, a snow made of shadow; and the melancholy of the landscape, the grand nocturnal solitude of these lofty, unknown regions, had a charm profound and disquieting. I do not know why I fancied myself no longer in Switzerland, but in some country near the pole, in Sweden or Norway. At the foot of these bare mountains I looked for wild fjords, lit up by the moon.
Nothing can express the profound somberness of these landscapes at nightfall; the long desert road, gray from the reflections of the starry sky, unrolls in an interminable ribbon along the depth of the valley; the treeless mountains, hollowed out like ancient craters, lift their overhanging precipices; lakes sleeping in the midst of the pastures, behind curtains of pines and larches, glitter like drops of quicksilver; and on the horizon the immense glaciers crowd together and overflow like sheets of foam on a frozen sea.
The road ascends. From the distance comes a dull noise, the roaring of a torrent. We cross a little cluster of trees, and on issuing from it the superb amphitheater of glaciers shows itself anew, overlooked by one white point glittering like an opal. On the hill a thousand little lights show me that I am at last at Pontresina. I thought I should never have arrived there; nowhere does night deceive more than in the mountains; in proportion as you advance toward a point, it seems to retreat from you.
Soon the black fantastic lines of the houses show through the darkness. I enter a narrow street, formed of great gloomy buildings, their fronts like a convent or prison. The hamlet is transformed into a little town of hotels, very comfortable, very elegant, very dear, but very stupid and very vulgar, with their laced porter in an admiral’s hat, and their whiskered waiters, who have the air of Anglican ministers. Oh ! how I detest them, and flee them, those hotels where the painter, or the tourist who arrives on foot, knapsack on his back and staff in hand, his trousers tucked into his leggings, his flask slung over his shoulder, and his hat awry, is received with less courtesy than a lackey.
Besides those hotels, some of which are veritable palaces, and where the ladies are almost bound to change their dress three times a day, there is a hotel of the second and third class; and there is the old inn; the comfortable, hospitable, patriarchal inn, with its Gothic signboard.
On leaving the village I was again in the open mountain. In the distance the road penetrated into the valley, rising always. The moon had risen. She stood out sharply cut in a cloudless sky, and stars sparkling everywhere in profusion; not like nails of gold, but sown broadcast like a flying dust, a dust of carbuncles and diamonds. To the right, in the depths of the amphitheater of the mountains, an immense glacier looked like a frozen cascade; and above, a perfectly white peak rose draped in snow, like some legendary king in his mantle of silver.
Bending under my knapsack, and dragging my feet, I arrive at last at the hotel, where I am received, in the kindest manner in the world, by the two mistresses of the establishment, two sisters of open, benevolent countenance and of sweet expression.
And the poor little traveler who arrives, his bag on his back and without bustle, who has sent neither letter nor telegram to announce his arrival, is the object of the kindest and most delicate attentions; his clothes are brushed, he gets water for his refreshment, and is then conducted to a table-bountifully spread, in a dining-room fragrant with good cookery and bouquets of flowers.- .
Beyond Campfer, its houses surrounding a third little lake, we come suddenly on a scene of extraordinary animation. All the cosmopolitan society of St. Moritz is there, sauntering, walking, running, in mountain parties, on afternoon excursions. The favorite one is the walk to the pretty lake of Campfer, with its shady margin, its resting places hidden among the branches, its chalet-restaurant, from the terrace of which one over-looks the whole valley; and it would be difficult to find near St. Moritz a more interesting spot.
We meet at every step parties of English ladies, looking like plantations of umbrellas with their covers on and surmounted by immense straw hats; then there are German ladies, massive as citadels, but not impregnable, asking nothing better than to surrender to the young exquisites, with the figure of cuirassiers, who accompany them; further on, lively Italian ladies parade themselves in dresses of the carnival, the colors outrageously striking and dazzling to the eyes; with upturned skirts they cross the Inn on great mossy stones, leaping with the grace of birds, and smiling, to show, into the bargain, the whiteness of their teeth. All this crowd passing in procession before us is composed of men and women of every age and condition; some with the grave face of a waxen saint, others beaming with the satisfied smile of rich people; there are also invalids, who go along hobbling and limping, or who are drawn in little carriages.
Soon handsome facades, pierced with hundreds of windows, show themselves in the grand and severe setting of mountains and glaciers. It is St. Moritz-les-Bains. Here every house is a hotel, and, as every hotel is a little palace, we do not alight from the diligence; we go a little farther and a little higher, to St. Moritz-le-Village, which has a much more beautiful situation. It is at the top of a little hill, whose sides slope down to a pretty lake, fresh and green as a lawn. The eye reaches beyond Sils, the whole length of the valley, with its mountains like embattled ramparts, its lakes Iike a great row of pearls, and its glaciers showing their piles of snowy white against the azure depths of the horizon.
St. Moritz is the center of the valley of the Upper Engadine, which extends to the length of eighteen or nineteen leagues, and which scarcely possesses a thousand inhabitants. Almost all the men emigrate to work for strangers, like their brothers, the mountaineers of Savoy and Auvergne, and do not return till they have amassed a sufficient fortune to allow them to build a little white house, with gilded window frames, and to die quietly in the spot where they were born.
Historians tell us that the first inhabitants of the tipper Engadine were Etruscans and Latins chased from Italy by the Gauls and Carthaginians, and taking refuge in these hidden altitudes. After the fall of the Empire, the inhabitants of the Engadine fell under the dominion of the Franks and Lombards, then the Dukes of Swabia; but the blood never mingledthe type remained Italian; black hair, the quick eye, the mobile countenance, the expressive features, and the supple figure.